"Papa...papa?" the girl called, holding an old book raising it towards Takano. "Who's Onodera Ritsu?"
Touch of Chagrin
Once during Onodera Ritsu's birthday when he was eight, a cousin of his gave him an unforgettable present. A box beautifully wrapped in a glittery blue wrapper, delicately secured by a silver ribbon. Among the gifts that Ritsu had received that day, this was the sole gift that excited him more than anything else. He stared at it, imagined what was inside it, appreciated it and waited for the night to settle in. He only opened it after opening everything else. As what they said, 'save the best for last'. However, a great disappointment so much that it hurt washed over him instead.
Inside the box was just a rock. A rough, ugly looking rock. It was then that Ritsu realized that his cousin older than him by three years decided to play a prank on him. A painful prank indeed if he woud be honest. That was the first ever instance he got a taste of the bitterness from expecting too much.
It was such a very distant memory he had forgotten together with it's lesson. However, that day, it all came back to him.
"It's been a while since I get to go home earlier than eight for the last two months..." Onodera Ritsu breathed out, never wanting more than ever a hot bath and a stuffing meal. "He'd be very surprised..."
Down the snowy path leading to a two storey apartment complex, Onodera Ritsu walked his way. His nose was a bit stuffy from the freezing cold of the mid-February month. His green eyes tired yet happy. Being a university freshman, getting a part-time job, meeting new people, living on his own, everything was a first for him. Including his male partner. Takano Masamune. His first ever partner whom he's living with.
"Maybe I should cook something since it's been a while..."
Almost hugging himself, blows of misty breath appearing and disappearing, he half jogged the remaining distance towards the winding staircase.
Just imagining the senpai he was going with, was enough to make him feel immune from Winter. He'd get flustered, warm and all fuzzy. After all, it was just like a dream.
Humming, he inserted his key into the slot, the door opening quietly before him. It was when he noticed a couple of wet sneakers and leather boots by the genkan. They were just left all messily. His eyes from the shoes, he darted towards the narrow hallway. He could hear slight giggles, voices of males and females. It sounded like they were having a great time.
"Senpai's friends huh?" the young brunette thought as he bent and lined the dirty sneakers and boots properly. Once all done, Ritsu started taking his coat off, slinging it on his one arm as he silently walked the hallway with his socked feet.
"So, Takano you're going out with someone right?" a delicate voice asked. Her timber of voice was pleasing to the ears. "Ritsu-kun right?"
"Oh I remember, the freshman in your university..." a male this time commented followed by a sound of a pack of junk food being opened. "How's it going?"
A soft embarrased laugh could be heard after. That sort of laughter, somehow seductive, somehow secretive made Ritsu smile. He knew it was his senpai Takano Masamune.
"Shut up, why would I tell you?" that melodic voice to Ritsu complained jokingly. "I don't have to report to you my life, do I?"
"How'd the two of you even meet when he's a freshman and you're a senior?"
In the hallway, Ritsu didn't want to just stay hidden. It appeared like he would be eavesdropping. He could just pop out and greet everyone in the living room. But he felt like he had been pinned down on the very spot where he stood. The answer to that question was very precious to Ritsu. It was a nostalgic feeling. And before he knew it, he started jumping back to three months ago.
That was a very tiresome day for Ritsu indeed. Having to write a ten-page essay comparing Western literature and Asian literature, he rushed to the university library.
It was at the last month of Autumn that time, all just a wet and cold feeling hanging in the air. Most of the students in the library that time had gone home or went to their own part-time jobs. The delicate pink rays from the outside went straight inside the library, showering the huge and already old space a tint of a dramatic feel. Like a sort of a melancholic feel that uplifts and depresses one at the same time.
"Yosh...I'll write a master piece tonight..."
He already had listed in his mind the books he'd use as a reference. Excitedly, he removed his coat while scanning his eyes up and down the 'World Literature Section'. Slinging the brownish, reddish coat into one of his arms, his frown started forming.
He scanned the whole shelf two more times. But it wasn't there. That book that he saw previously. That book that would be the backbone of his essay was not there.
Tensely, Ritsu approached the student librarian.
"Hi good afternoon," Ritsu started, his eyes glancing back to the aisle where he came from. He wondered if he could finish it that night. Questioning himself why he didn't finish it the first day they got that assigned task. "Uhm...I'm looking for a book titled 'Azure' by Tadashi Rumi? It's not on the shelf..."
The student librarian pushed her eyeglasses properly back on her nosebridge before typing something into the computer data base. She produced this low 'hmmmm', her eyes running up and down the screen before looking at Ritsu with a smile.
"It's been borrowed already..."
"Uhm..." Ritsu felt tense. "Aren't there any copies left or something? I really need that book..."
The librarian shot Ritsu a pitiful look. "'Azure's got only one copy in this library...I'm sorry."
Ritsu leaned on top of the counter, almost glaring at the computer screen himself. "Uhm...could you do me a favor and uhm...tell me who borrowed the book?"
Grey, round eyes watched Ritsu for a while. Seeing Ritsu's constipated-like look, she sighed.
"It's a bit disrespectful for the first borrower you know? But since you seem to be in a tight spot...go to the farthest aisle, there's your book."
"The borrower is a regular here and he usually sits away from the rest."
The librarian looked away for a second to type something, but before she could even tell the other the name of the borrower, the brunette's already hopping away.
On the other hand, with determination already building up, Ritsu made his way into the most quiet part of the large and spacious library. It felt like he was going further and further from reality as he passed tall bookshelves, all housing new books, the smell relaxing and homey.
Passing the large shelves, hearing a faint buzzing from the silence, Ritsu realized that this section felt a lot older than the rest of the library. Perhaps this was the original library before it had been subjected to a number of renovations and extensions.
After the last bookshelves, a space was left for a long reddish table. At the very last seat at the corner was a single person, quietly looking and flipping through the pages.
Ritsu went to a shelf standing just before that long table and pretended to scan the books in there. He stood consciously, stealing glances, sensing if the person who had the book he wanted would be easy to talk to or not.
Taking a book from the shelf, the brunette opened it, pulled it close to his face as if hiding.
He noticed a slight frown on the man seated by himself. His downcast hazel eyes looked unwelcoming. Even the way he just sat there gave a sense of warning. The darkhair and dark turtle neck made it no better. The man there obviously didn't look the type to be accomodating.
"He looks way too serious..."
Perhaps Ritsu was too obvious, or he was acting weird. Those unreadable hazel eyes darted from the book towards him. A glance that was surprising and a little unnerving.
Ritsu stared back. But the other guy just stared back without saying anything.
"Ah...the book you're reading, is it fun?" Ritsu asked out of the blue. He wanted to burry himself under the books for the run-about when he could just say it directly. More over, he asked the other as if they'd been long time friends. He must have looked really weird.
"It's...it's a good book I heard..." Ritsu trailed off, flipping mindlessly into the book in his hands.
The dark-haired man pursed his lips, not looking away at all which made Ritsu uncomfortable.
"That book you're reading, is it fun?"
Ritsu was surprised. The voice asking him made him somehow tingly. He thought the guy would be a great voice actor if he wanted. This was the kind of male voice fans wanted; not too low, a little husky, cold and somehow flat.
"Uh...yeah..." Ritsu nodded smiling. The guy didn't seem to be much of an antisocial after all. He felt a little relieved. "I like the story very much..."
That gaze with unbearable confidence kept lingering at Ritsu. The stranger put the book he was holding down and rested his chin on his clasped hands. A destructive, mocking small smile was what he threw at Ritsu.
"Since when telephone directories got a story in them?"
"H-huh?" Panicking, Ritsu closely looked at the thick book in his hands and realized then that he was a great idiot. "I-uh..."
"Or do the numbers have some hidden meaning?"
The slight mocking smile that Ritsu was seeing was too blinding. It sapped his ability to think straightly and just stared at the guy. He stared for a very long while, before finding himself slowly inching forward. The next thing he knew, he was already seated at one of the chairs, still holding the directory.
"C-can I borrow that?" Ritsu nodded to the closed book before the man, his cheeks flushed from embarassment and some unfamiliar feeling. He'd already made a fool of himself anyway so he was just leaving the rest to luck. "The Azure book I mean..."
"Oh...so you're somehow stalking me for the book?"
"Stalking...no I'm not. I just really..."
"What should we do? The book is really interesting I want to finish it by tonight."
"Huh?" Ritsu looked at the book on the table as if it was a rare dish he wasn't allowed to eat. "I'll return it tomorrow...I just need it...please?"
The man crossed his arms. Whether he was intimidating Ritsu or not, Ritsu couldn't tell. Time ticked by, the university chime rang in the entire campus, signalling that they'd reached six in the evening. The brunette didn't know whether this was a staring competition or not. The man across him seem to be searching something at his face, not batting an eyelash.
Ritsu was soon to give up. Life was never easy after all. Besides, the man across him seem to be a senpai from a different department. It was starting to get awkward by the moment. Especially the wild warmness spreading somewhere in him. The nervousness sprouting out of nowhere made Ritsu grimace.
The man suddenly let out a sigh. He stood abruptly, making Ritsu realize all the more the different air coming from the stranger. That sort of a dangerous feel, yet drawing still. Perhaps, this was why wild animals always had been a fascination of the many. Their mysterious beauty and obvious strenght, qualities indeed that slay the eyes.
With the soft clicking of his shoes against the tiled floors, the raven walked leasurely. It was only then that it grew quiet again when the raven stood by the edge of the table, hands in his acid washed jeans.
"Give it back to me tomorrow."
Ritsu looked up, brows meeting in confusion at what that chilling voice said. The stranger then nodded at the book he left on the table.
"Same time. Same place."
It took a couple of seconds for Ritsu to gain back his composure. Why was he so flustered talking to another man he didn't know. It was just that way. He came looking for the borrower to borrow something, but in exchange, it felt as though something had been taken away from him. Permanently.
"You're a slow one," the man commented. A slight curl at the corner of his lips started forming before straightening up, leaving Ritsu staring dumbfoundedly at the empty space where the older student once stood.
Left alone in the most secluded part of the library, Ritsu slowly reached out to the book before him. He touched it first with his finger tips before pulling it close. He merely stared at it for seconds instead of starting to read and starting to do his essay.
With a loud thumping in his chest, he turned to the last page. A second copy of the borrower's card was there with only a few names written. The most recent one read 'Takano Masamune'.
"That's really a special day for me..." Ritsu thought while smiling. It was the day someone fully captured his attention. The day that started every change and every happiness filling him to the brim.
"How'd the two of you meet come on!" Ritsu's reminiscing was slashed through by the loud voice of one of the visitors. They sounded that they won't leave Takano Masamune alone until the latter answers.
In the suspense that followed suit, the brunette couldn't help but be nervous himself. But Takano Masamune had always showed Ritsu how much he cared and loved him, so naturally the brunette wasn't worried. And yet...
"It wasn't all that special you jerks," Takano replied sardonically. "Honestly I can't remember anymore."
"...?" Ritsu who was previously looking at the floor had lifted his gaze towards the door to the living room. He thought he heard it wrong.
"Not special? You're going out with a man even though you're not gay to begin for crying out loud. There must be something in him."
The familiar voice to Ritsu which always murmured sweet things when they get together at night let out a chuckle.
"I can't remember what I can't remember alright?"
A sound of a woman laughing ensued. Her timber sounded a bit lusty and seductive.
"Cut it out Tomoya, this guy is such a jerk. What do you expect?"
"Then," another strange voice started. "Why are you even going out with him?"
Ritsu held his breath. He felt as if he was choking right then and there. He started thinking maybe he had entered the wrong room and was just hearing a man with the same voice as his partner. He pushed himself thinking that as he started walking away back to the genkan. But there was a limit to the lenghts one could deceive themselves.
"Hmm...because his place is closest to the university?" Takano mumbled with a laugh.
"So you're going out with that other girl from that all-girls university because of what? Her place is near the bar you frequent?"
"You could say that," Takano replied. "But on second thought, Matsuoka isn't such a bad catch. She's well-mannered, sweet and smart. Who knows we might get hitched for real a couple of years from now."
The laughter that followed sounded weird in Ritsu's ears. He even thought that he'd heard the worst from the very first man he'd given himself to. But he was wrong.
"The guy I'm living with here is so boring I could die."
Ritsu stiffened as he felt himself needing support from the wall.
"He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't watch porn. He doesn't go out to bars. He practically has no life."
"Eh? Then what do you do together?"
"Sex," Takano replied as though it was just a natural topic for him and his group of friends. "Well...I like screwing virgins so that's fine. But after that, he'd sit at the corner and read his books. He cooks for me but a dog food would have been better. He even tried making me wear a matching sweat shirt..."
The bunch of people inside his own living room again laughed a delirious laughter. As if it's not Ritsu's own body, as if it's not even his own mind, he walked. Like a lifeless doll whose battery ran out of life. His face, his eyes, his lips, they lacked emotion.
He lightly made the shoes he lined by the genkan out of order again. He pushed the door open and went out. He left, erasing the fact that he was there.
"Oi...it's 12 already. Where have you been?"
Ritsu was so surprised the moment he opened the door. By the genkan was a frowning dark-haired man, arms crossed, as if any military officer doing a head-count.
"Err...I helped in the accounting of the books sold...so...also...we drank a bit..."
Takano lifted his chin, a brow raised. "'Drank a bit'?"
Ritsu took a step back, still in his freezing boots his toes must have already been frost bitten. The brunette pedalled backwards, eyes never leaving the dominating hazel-eyes looking down on him.
After the brunette had hit the wall, dead end, mice cornered, Takano leaned over the other's shoulder and started sniffing. From the wet and cold brown hair down to the slightly flushed neck.
"You stink. You don't hold your alcohol too well," Takano mumbled as he made space between them. "Never do that again if you're just alone. What if you fell or injured yourself next time?"
Ritsu smiled. He just smiled but never said anything next.
"What are you being silent about?"
The brunette continued gazing at the beautiful hazel eyes that seem to be burning. They don't lose their vibrance even in the depressing coldness of winter. They seem to blaze on their own. A blaze Ritsu so loved so much.
Truth be told, the moment Ritsu entered his flat, he smelled a scent. A scent he was so familiar with but hasn't realized just till today. That stail warmth that had been aired already made his nose itchy. That was the scent of an after-sex.
Ritsu was just a few meters away from the apartment complex the entire time, chugging down cans of beer one after another as he watched the open stairs. He saw two males leave. The girl was left behind and only left after an hour and a half.
There was no other more obvious explanation for the scent of unfaithfulness in the air. He finally saw everything as if the puzzles came together on their own. His partner Takano Masamune was awfully sweet to him specially after being unfaithful. After cheating. But still...
"Huh? The fuck are you saying by the genkan?" Takano said, turning his back at the brunette. "Go change before you catch a cold. I'll heat up your meal. You have to warm up yourself properly. Jeez, you're too careless."
Ritsu then heard a voice in his mind. Mocking him. Leering at him. Laughing at him. See? He's getting extremely caring and sweet again...you know why now...
Ritsu only scratched the tip of his nose that had started getting very itchy and tingly. Even his eyes had become stingy. When Takano shortly glanced at him, Ritsu gave it away as due to the coldness outside.
Onodera Ritsu's weirdness, not that he was not already weird, just intensified one evening. This was what Takano Masamune felt. A lingering thought of 'whys' and 'whats' and 'whens' plagued his head.
Takano Masamune couldn't help but keep glancing beside the brunette who was walking beside him. Being a bit taller, Takano could observe a few specks of snow on that brown hair which melted in no time. They were headed to a bar. A birthday party of Takano Masamune's friend was being celebrated there right this moment. And right before Takano could leave home, huffing, shuffling, Ritsu came to him and said 'I'll go with you' with that odd look in those green eyes.
"Hey...I won't carry you if you get drunk or something," Takano mumbled, feeling his feet sinking into the two-inch snow on the streets. "Besides, why suddenly come? You hate drinking with my friends anyway."
Ritsu tugged at the red scarf around his neck and continued walking ahead. "Trying once wouldn't hurt..."
"Well...that's true..." Takano mumbled, still eyeing the shadows and lights playing on the other's face with each car passing by. "Oh let me guess, trying to check out if I am hiding someone from you?"
What bothered Takano that night, was perhaps Ritsu's ironic laughter. Ritsu never laughed like that. He'd rather be quiet than laugh about something being the awkward person he was. But Ritsu that night just kept on giggling about the littlest things and to be honest, that was starting to annoy Takano. It sounded the same as those pretentious girls and boys he had one-night stands with.
The only saving things why he was even bothering staying with such a boring character was one; Ritsu's flat was near their university; two, Ritsu was not a loud hen about things; three, Ritsu was easy to manipulate. Show him a little kindness, show him a little affection and he'd be looking back at him with twinkly, grateful puppy eyes. Takano didn't like this Ritsu beside him right now.
"I won't be a babysitter alright?" Takano said through gritted teeth.
"Just pretend I am not there then," Ritsu replied, glancing briefly at Takano before looking straight ahead again. "I just want to see what you enjoy doing that's all."
"Don't go feeling bad if I do just that."
Everything went well, if Takano would be asked. The bar they went was very loud, blinking dizzying lights all over, deafening sounds and lustic laughter just went mixing together to create an awesome trashy partying of his entire gang. Most girls were in very scanty clothing, slinging their arms into his, stealing pecks on the cheeks. Most men didn't hold back with their green jokes. Their table had no space left for the different drinks and food served to them. This was the typical birthday partying of his friends.
It just didn't somehow felt good to see a pair of green eyes glancing aimlessly around. Ritsu had this sort of look that he was lost. That he had been sucked in a wormhole. And then in the corner, he'd sip his beer once in while, hiding the face he was making from the bitter taste.
It all went perfect somehow. Except for one thing. During a card game, for some reason, Takano kept on losing and losing. Some of his friends even mouthed to him that it probably was because he brought a bad luck. They did that before glancing briefly at a brunette clapping his hands trying to join in the fun. It was just that, Ritsu didn't have the same partying air as everyone else. No matter how much the brunette tried to make a conversation with the others, his hobbies were way too different from what his friends busy themselves with.
"Aww...Takano you're pathetic tonight...you have to suffer the consequences!"
These were all university students mostly juniors and seniors. Yet they were all giddy, cheeks flushed as they handed down Takano Masamune's conviction.
That verdict was the reason why, he and Ritsu was now standing beside a lamp post. Never did Takano expected he'd be the one throwing up like this beside the streets and not the other way around.
"Senpai..." Ritsu mumbled, rubbing his hand carefully against a coughing Takano. "Are you alright?"
The darkhaired man coughed and spewed something on the accumulated snow. He threw a glare at the brunette beside him right after.
"Do you have to ask?" Takano hissed as he looked down at the stain on the pure white snow below him. The penalty of drinking a bottle of beer, a spoonful of hot sauce, a spoonful of mayonaise with grated cheeze and crumbs of nuts mixed in together as a juice didn't sit well in his stomach. Everything was trying to find their way out of his mouth. "Do I look alright?"
"Damn, I'm never bringing you again with me," Takano said as he started walking ahead, though staggeringly. "I've never lost in poker once. Just this night when you're there!"
Takano wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, feeling sick to the pits of his stomach when he noticed Ritsu staring at him again. The morning was still very early. No signs of sun, no noise of the day, just the sound of snow under their shoes could be heard. Still, Ritsu wasn't the type to do this. No, not this.
At the hazel eyes, there reflected a nearing green ones. It went closer and closer until Takano could no longer see anything but a thick set of brownish eyelashes. Onodera Ritsu just kissed him. The brunette did so right after he just made a pool of puke that the snow absorbed. Takano was so grossed out he had to push Ritsu away.
"What the hell have you gone nuts?"
"What's wrong?" Ritsu replied, smiling a little. "I just felt like kissing you..."
"Well I know that!" Takano barked. "I just barfed my heads out and you go kissing me? That's disgusting...Even if I am horny as hell I wouldn't do that."
Ritsu's face was flushed from the cold that he just started rubbing the spot where Takano had pushed him.
"If you're not grossed out by that, then fine. But it's not the case for me."
Ritsu turned to his bag, pulled out a bottle of water and gave it to Takano. "I'm sorry."
Takano glared at the bottled water with disbelief. Why not hand the bottle of water first before kiss him?
The snow melted from the roofs, from the strees, and each sparkling drop went and united with a greater stream under the soil. The birds already started singing cheery hymns, a somehow romantic way to open ones eyes in an early Spring morning.
When Takano looked to his right, him still lying under the white sheets fully naked, he caught a glimpse of Ritsu wrapped like a sushie in his own yellow sheet. What he just couldn't understand was for the past days, Ritsu started doing this weird thing.
"Just what do you get by pinching and poking on my finger tips huh, dummy?" Takano wondered.
The light from the halfclosed window was somehow mesmerizing. The rays just went on as if they loved it landing on Ritsu's tossled hair, giving it an illusion like the man had a halo. Last night was tiring. Takano couldn't even remember the hour he finally got tired and stopped pleasuring himself. Maybe he was half drunk, maybe he was intoxicated. But after having sex with a girl whom he met just that night, when he came home, he just grabbed the reading Ritsu and pushed him down. He plunged himself in to an unexplainable pleasure and lost himself to the thrill that his every movements brought him.
"Oi..." Takano huskily called, making the very focused Ritsu look at him in the eyes. "You okay?"
Ritsu continued looking at Takano as though he didn't get it.
"I was rough last night. How are you feeling?"
The brunette gave an embarrassed smile while continuing with what he was doing to Takano's fingers. "I'm fine."
Takano rested his head on one of his arms, observing Ritsu's face. He couldn't help but compare. The girl he had sex with was nothing short of an expert. She was one thousand times better at Ritsu with everything bed related. But it was as if he just couldn't find something. And watching Ritsu pinch and poke his finger tips made his chest a little uncomfortable. There was an itchy, prickly sensation in there he couldn't scratch away.
"What the heck are you doing with my fingers?" Takano asked again. "You always do that lately."
"Senpai," Ritsu started. "Didn't you know that our finger tips are said to be somehow connected to our hearts?"
"Nothing," Ritsu said while shaking his head. "Take care of your heart senpai."
Takano snorted. Ritsu smiled.
It was the most relaxed morning they ever had. Quiet. Homey. Simple. A day which inevitably ended the moment the doorbell rang.
"Get the door Ritsu," Takano grumbled, hiding back under the blankets, like a black cat seeking for more warmth which made Ritsu warm inside. "Give me three more minutes..."
"Senpai...you sleep like a cat."
Takano grabbed a pillow, throwing it at Ritsu's face. "Shut up. Get to the fucking door already!"
Brushing his messy hair with his fingers in an attempt to be presentable, Ritsu grabbed his sweatshirt on the floor and got dressed. With a slight smile on his lips, he glanced at the calendar and headed to the door after.
"Goodmorning," said a girl in a pristine white coat. Her long black hair, her drawing black eyes, her every prim manner etched their way into Ritsu's mind. "I'm sorry for coming so early. You're Onodera-san right?"
Ritsu felt so little. In no way his appearance could rival this pure, elegant beauty with his tossled brown hair and unpresentable clothes.
"Uh...hai," Ritsu nodded a little. "How can I help you?"
The little lady's cheeks were tainted with a slight touch of pink in them. She looked down for a short moment as if hesitating. And then, breathing deeply, she directed her huge, spell-binding eyes at Ritsu.
Ritsu only needed the first five words to understand what this was about. Somehow feeling that he had been chained, his every motion hard and dragging, Ritsu moved to the side, allowing the young woman to come in with her goldpaper bag.
"I'll go get him, you can sit on the sofa," Ritsu said, smiling oddly. "Sorry, two males living together is messy..."
"Uh no please don't say that," the young woman smiled brightly. "It's bad enough of me to come unannounced. I appreciate your understanding."
"Uhm...can I, go with you?"
Ritsu sighed. This young woman was so sweet to come here from a far. How could he not give her that privilege?
"Okay, follow me."
The brunette walked towards the room he was sharing with Takano Masamune, the young lady followed behind. Not a sound of her walking could be heared. She seemed to be a light wind, with her pleasant scent filling the entire flat. Ritsu stood by the door, like he didn't really want to open it. In his bowed head, his quivering lips were the only thing visible. Slowly, he reached to the knob. Slowly, he pushed it open. And slowly, he lifted his gaze to the dream sleeping on his bed.
"I'm Matsuoka Inori. Is Masamune...?" these were the four words that shaken up Ritsu greatly. The last word he couldn't even summon to say himself. And yet this girl, this person, sounded like she'd been saying it for so long there was no holding back anymore.
"It's the girl that senpai says as not a bad catch..."
Counting from three to one, Ritsu drew a very, very, painful deep breath before turning to the woman behind him. He nodded. A signal that the woman can now enter. The second the woman stepped in, was the second Ritsu stepped aside. The brunette watched the long hair flowing behind the woman's back like a shining black river in the morning light. He watched that lite figure float towards Takano Masamune with a solemn expression.
The young lady sat on the bed, patting the lump under the sheets gently. Takano just shrugged under the sheets not wanting to be disturbed.
"I said three minutes more..."
"But Masamune, it's past three minutes already," the woman answered, her voice a soft melody.
Hurriedly, Takano sat. The blanket over him falling off of him, revealing his half-nakedness. His eyes unfocusedly staring at the beautiful apparition before him and at the green eyes of the man standing by the door. Those emerald eyes were suddenly devoid of affection and life in them. It looked like a dead lake, not a sound, not a ripple.
"Matsuoka...what're you doing here?"
"It's White Day today so I came to surprise you," she coyly responded, planting a soft kiss against Takano's cheek. "I asked around for your address and ended up here. Then I requested to your room mate to let me in without telling you...he's so nice."
"Is that so?" Takano smiled at the young lady feeling a complex sensation while watching Ritsu turn his back. "Oi...Ri-Onodera-"
"I'll go prepare tea," Ritsu mumbled, his shoulders were obviously stiff. "Take your time, she specifically made the trouble to see you after all."
Ritsu's hands were shaking. From collecting the tea cups to pouring the hot water. His hands were shaking terribly. The pale jade color of the ceramics before him looked like a blotch of mold instead. Yet he continued doing what he was doing. A tea for his dream and the dream's girlfriend.
While searching for sweets or anything that can be served as a snack, Ritsu paused briefly. It was because he felt that familiar presence hovering behind him.
"What are you doing senpai?" Ritsu whispered. "Don't leave the guest alone."
"We're not going, are we?" the brunette whispered as he laid cookies in a small plate. "We can't afterall."
"Your girlfriend," Ritsu's voice was so soft. "And another guy at someplace where it's convenient..."
Ritsu placed the sweets and the tea cups in a black tray, fixing them like a painting.
"I've known for a long time...that I don't matter much."
Takano raised a hand, but he also stopped midair for the confusion hitting him. Where was he going to put that hand anyway?
"Masamune?" the sweet voice called.
"Tsk," Takano then darted to the door and shouted "I'll be there, just a moment!" After that, he almost desperately looked at the retreating brunette."Ritsu...come on...don't take it too much...you know we'd eventually have to settle sooner or later with a woman-"
The brunette turned at Takano with a smile. It looked so unhappy and painful that Takano forgot what he wanted to say the next. Those comforting and pretentious words that were inside his throat vanished to thin air.
"But that's not how it is for me."
"Senpai, I'm tired."
The brunette carried the tray and started walking away.
"Ritsu... you're breaking up with me?"
Sighing, Ritsu glanced back a little. "That's strange senpai...we've never been 'us' in the first place. You made it very clear without saying anything."
Takano Masamune had no idea where Ritsu was. That night of March 14, the brunette didn't come home. The next day, the next day after the next, and the next days after those days, until it had become a week of absence. He had searched the university premises, went to the brunette's part-time job, and asked the few people he knew that was somehow in touch with Ritsu. All of them had one answer. They didn't know.
"Fine, then don't come back. Fuck."
The raven has had enough of acting the stalker himself. He angrily returned to the apartment that Ritsu owns. Practically slamming all the doors when he closed and opened them, kicking the mess all over the floor that Ritsu made a week ago, cursing all over the place, Takano finally stopped. He stopped moving. He stopped and just stood in the middle of the living room.
"Maybe he won't be coming until you don't move out? He broke up with you right?"
It was one of Takano's friends who told him those words. It rang truth in all sense. It was the most rational conclusion to Ritsu's disappearance. It was not in Ritsu's personality to throw someone out. That was how stupid he was. So instead, he was waiting for the other party to take the hint and leave? When Takano thought of this, he could feel nothing but deep irritation.
"Damn it..." Takano heaved a great sigh, finally cooling his head.
Hazel eyes darted around the 1LDK. The white couch on the corner of the small living area was something he had bought. It had now taken a yellowish hint from spilled coffee and other fluids. The bottles of sake had been piled in another corner. They were all his. The mountain of unfolded laundry was lying on top of the center table. They were a mix of his clothes and Ritsu's.
"...besides Takano...isn't this a good chance? You have a good reason now to stop seeing that homo."
Takano just kept silent after hearing those from that guy Tomoya.
"...in fact Takano, you're scaring me. Come back to your senses, man. 'Playing' gay and 'being' gay are totally different."
"You're a cool guy Takano, girls would throw themselves at you on a platter. If you stayed with him...what kind of future would you have?"
"What am I so flustered for?" Takano asked himself. After a moment of hesitation, he walked over the pile of clothes and started sorting them out. He grabbed his huge bag and pressed all of it inside. Not folding them at all, he made them all fit in, trying to lock them all up in a container that was obviously not able to keep up.
When Takano noticed the time, it was already 11 in the evening. Clearly, the brunette had no intention of going home to his own place that night. And clearly for Takano, he had no intention of staying there for longer.
He grabbed his bag, threw it over his left shoulder and headed out. Just like how he went in was how he went out. He slammed the doors close, his anger evident.
Looking down on the steel, winding staircase, the wet from the melted snow made it hard to trudge down fast. He grabbed on to the railing, still watching his step when he saw two pairs of dirty boots before him. When hazel eyes looked up, surprised emerald eyes were staring back.
It took like an eternity for both to find their words. With Takano being on the higher step, he could plainly see the brunette's entirety. The messy head, the flushed cheeks, the wet spot on the brunette's shoulders from the melted snow. The brunette didn't look too well.
"Yoh. Didn't know you'd be coming home tonight," Takano started coolly. "I just came to take my stuff."
The brunette quietly looked at the bag on Takano's shoulder. It stayed there for some time before Ritsu looked back at the man.
Takano took a step down. Two steps away from Ritsu, he got a closer look of the redness in those orbs.
"Senpai...have you never felt anything for me...even for just a little?"
The raven took two steps down, their shoulders almost touching. They stood there in silence. No movements. No words. Their breaths just showed how cold their surroundings were.
Takano closed his eyes.
"Playing' gay and 'being' gay are totally different..."
Takano had thought about it a million times over while searching for Ritsu. He had thought about it and weighed all the good and bad points. It wasn't a surprise that the bad points far exceeded the good ones.
"If you stayed with him...what kind of future would you have?"
Silently, Takano Masamune stepped down. Down, down, down, not glancing back he left. Down, down, down without a word, to what seemed like right.
Eight years later, Takano Masamune stood in front of a mirror. All the childish traces of his youth had been replaced by awestrucking maturity. His commanding presence, his dominating gaze, even his lean physique not to mention his work ethics made him the successful man he was now.
The 3LDK apartment unit he was renting in a posh side of the city was tastefully classical. A modern-Japanese interior, adorned with fine paintings by the walls. The place had not much of any unneccessary accessory. Just a wide space that was soothing to the eyes.
The man fixed his slightly crooked neck tie, in his background was a low volume of a television that was on somewhere within his flat. He creased his brows as he listened to the morning drama dialogues that were breaking the 'refined' feel of his entire house.
"Oi...quit the TV!" he called. "Is Saira prepared for the nursery already?"
A pair of small feet, with pink socks and slight laces came vicible from the top most of the stairs. A little girl no older than five came strutting down the steps with a wide grin. Her black hair and hazel eyes shone brightly in the morning.
"Papa!" the girl exclaimed as she almost tripped on the last steps of the stairs.
Takano was quick to run to the girl's aid who just landed on the floor. The man sighed and picked the clumsy girl up. He raised his huge hand and patted his daughter's knees and skirt.
"Jeez...quit running like a triatlist will you? Try acting like a girl for once?"
Grinning, the girl exposed her two front teeth missing and she didn't look bothered the least bit. She just hang on to her father, tugging at the man's trousers with a loving expression. She didn't even cry when she fell and just continued like nothing happened.
"Papa, papa...when can I wear make-ups like how Mama does?"
The raven sighed again and ruffled the girl's hair. She was really cute and a curious thing.
"When you're old enough."
"When is 'old enough'? In High school? In University?"
Takano who was kneeling before his girl looked to the sound of the door opening from the left side of the flat. It revealed a nice figure clad in a signatured wine-red coat. Her black hair was in a lose bun. She was wearing the slightest make-up that brought the appeal of her brown eyes. She was refined, well-mannered and indeed like an educated lady from a good family.
The woman giggled. "I'm sorry. It took time for a pregnancy test."
The little girl in between the couple looked up. "Papa? What's a pregnancy test?"
Both adults smiled patiently but ignored the little girl first.
"So?" Takano stiffly started. "How is it?"
"Saira's going to be a big sister now..."
Takano felt his chest tighten. He felt something struck him from behind and he would collapse any minute. He's going to be a dad of two kids? That was something. This was a great news. He's the perfect boss to many, the perfect husband and the perfect dad. This was the perfect life...the perfect future.
And yet there was something missing. A 'something' that was far more important than anything.
As Takano watched the little girl run around the house, as he gazed at the pretty woman whom he called as his wife, as the life went on normally with people calling them as a role family and a blessed one, Takano felt his smile freeze on his face.
Far more than anything else, he felt nothing. And from that nothing gave rise to his greatest regret.
"Papa...papa?" the girl called, holding an old book raising it towards Takano. "Who's Onodera Ritsu?"
He felt cold sweat forming on his forehead. He felt his chest constrict. Takano stared at the mirror hard. He stared and suddenly became aware of the curious eyes his wife shot at him.
The raven watched the eyes through the mirror. He inhaled, taking in the scent of fresh soap from just having taken a shower. He could see tiny droplets of water from that hair that was dripping down the floor. When he looked down, the blinding bare and white feet made him suck his breath. And slowly he brought his hazel eyes back to the eyes still curiously staring from behind him.
"What do you think would have happened...if I hadn't reached out to your hand eight years ago?"
The eyes from the mirror frowned. "Huh?"
Suddenly, Takano turned around. Lifting his hands, he held the face that perfectly fit his hands. He ran his gaze from the other's brows, nose to the lips that always accepted him. To the neck that always provided him comfort. To the chest in where he could feel the strongest beats of that addicting sensation.
"What's wrong with you? You'll be late for work."
"I just saw myself...in a world without you..."
"It was great. I had a pretty wife...and a pretty daughter and expecting another one...probably a boy..."
The shorter one only listened silently.
"It's the right and 'perfect' life any man could have wished for you know. And I felt momentarily satisfied."
In the hazel-eyes, there reflected a hand reaching to his crooked neck tie.
Takano smiled. "Within that happy perfect family, I started missing you. I knew it would never work out. Frankly it scared me..."
"It's a good life...but I can't tell whether I'd be happy like this..."
Takano gazed lovingly in those green eyes. How the other was patting his neck-tie with a silent 'done', how the other had a slight flustered cheeks despite acting all cool and mature.
"Ritsu...I'm glad...that I am here with you..."
The brunette gave an embarassed smile before laying a finger to Takano's lips.
"You have a meeting today. And I have an appointment this afternoon."
Takano looked deeply into the green eyes. He looked into them, as if searching, as if desperately begging. The green orbs staring back did not relent and held his ground. But then he gave a defeated smile. And he was the one who took his own robe, dropping it on the floor.
"You've become such a tease all these eight years," Takano hoarsely whispered with a meaningful gaze. "Where'd you learn that?"
"From the master before me?"
Takano could not hold back the smile on his lips as he gathered this piece of art before him. He closed in the gap between them, savoring the intensifying heat he could feel from the other's naked body. Gently tugging the other to him by the waist, Takano rested his face against the hallow of Ritsu's neck and shoulder. He lingered there for a long while. Whispering 'thank yous' and more.
Soaked in the rays of the sunlight, Takano supressed this strange want to tear-up.
"What's gotten in to you really?" the brunette asked almost laughing.
But Takano just answered the brunette with his searing lips. A tender kiss, an enveloping one, the kind that shuts everything out in their sphere. An entertwining of breaths that only lovers exchange. If Takano had made the wrong decision that winter night eight years ago, he would've have been in a veil of regret.
He had already stepped a foot from the last step. The sound of the snow crunching under his shoe was loud and somehow distracting. His right foot, still on the step, he couldn't bring it down. He was hesitating.
When slowly, Takano Masamune looked up, he saw Ritsu looking at him. The brunette looked so miserable. The lights were in the opposite direction, causing his profile to be distorted by the sad winter night shadows. It made Takano all the more guilty. Guilty beyond words, he swallowed the lump in his throat.
He kept on saying he wasn't gay. Yet he could never get satisfied with the girls at all. He'd always felt empty and go home, searching what he couldn't find to Ritsu. He kept on saying Ritsu's a boring character. But thinking back of the quiet nights they just read books side by side on the floor, he realized, that silence, that silence that claws down his chest was a form of bond that he couldn't find elsewhere. No pretentions, no fake acts. Just a pure silence that calms him greatly.
Somehow, before Takano's eyes, flashed a series of sudden realizations as if trying to catch up from a nearing deadline. That if he didn't realize it now and make a decision, he'd regret it for the rest of his life.
Takano watched Ritsu slowly turn his back, readying to move up. The sound of the brunette's boots clicking loudly from the steel stairs sounded like a ticking explosives in Takano's ear.
The raven had dropped his bag to the cold ground. And he didn't know where he got the speed to cover all those remaining steps. But he covered them up, with all his strenght, it was his first time to catch up to Ritsu instead of the other way around.
Takano gulped, reached out, and grabbed Ritsu's hand forcefully. It felt so slow yet fast at the same time.
Ritsu turned to look. He looked down questioningly to the painful sensation in his hand.
"I'm sorry Ritsu..."
"I'm sorry that I've taken advantage of you, didn't care much, and hurt you. I'm sorry..."
Takano gazed up, feeling his eyes burning, feeling his chest on fire too. Was it too late? Did this stupid, prideful him just lost a treasure that's always been beside him all this time?
The raven felt himself shake. Was it the remaining chill of Winter? Was he the only one who could feel little tremor on the ground, on that stairs?
Ritsu's expressionless face made it all the more confusing.
"...Ritsu..." Takano wished Ritsu would say something. Anything. But the brunette only looked down on him with a seizing gaze. If this was Ritsu's revenge, coldly replace his once passionate eyes towards the other, he was doing it so greatly.
Takano could feel his gut tightening.
So this was how it was to chase someone leaving. It tasted so bitter.
To the raven's surprise, Ritsu tearily smiled.
"You only have to say that...senpai..."
Takano would never forget that night when he actually, embarassedly felt his cheeks glisten. He felt relieved, happy and felt in anguish too that he didn't know what to do with them.
The man was so astonished at how this Ritsu could just forgive him so easily. It was somehow stupid. Idiot was probably Ritsu's other name.
And Takano loved this idiot.
The 'right' future didn't seem all that bad. But Takano was glad he chose the 'imperfect' one instead. It may have been hard for two males to stand up in public, to accept that they'd never have a child, and many more among others. But this 'imperfect' relationship was what was making him happy now. And what was making him glad to open his eyes every waking time of his day.
They'd grown into mature adults, more stable in their insights and views. Yet each waking morning of all those eight years that passed and the more years to come, certainly was like falling all over again.
For them, it's their own 'right' and 'perfect' love.
"Hey Ritsu," the raven asked just before they got into their car. "You told me about that gift from your cousin right? That rock in an awesome package? What happened to that?"
Takano didn't expect much of an answer considering that it'd been too long. However, Ritsu's reply just before the brunette pulled the door open made him halt.
"I kept it. It's still a gift after all."
"Besides...I was so frustrated one day that I threw it against the wall. It cracked. And well..."
"It taught me to never lose patience?"
Ritsu frowned and tapped the top of the car thrice. "Come on hurry up. Or I will be the one driving."
"Shut up," Takano sternly replied. "You're a lousy driver."
Once the two got inside the car, Ritsu stared at the front with a grin.
"I was so frustrated about all your flings I threw that very rock against the wall. The rock from baked clay cracked unexpectedly..."
"What are you grinning there about? You look stupid from over here."
Ritsu just brushed it off and fixed his seatbelt, glancing shortly at Takano. Really, he realized that the ugly things could be having something in store as a surprise. The passing of time made the clay brittle, making it vulnerable. Just like how all of Takano's imperfections he almost gave up about but kept on hanging to it. And then, eights years later, there they were, going stronger and more valuable to each other as time passed.
"I never imagined... there's a gold coin inside..."
chapter end notes:
because the last oneshot for SIH TakanoXRitsu ended up sadly...i guess..this ending is a happy one right? haha..thank you for the time reading and please share your thoughts!